The Singer and the Song

A 1960s movie starring Mylene Demongeot and Dirk Bogarde showed a religious battle between a Catholic priest and an atheist bandit whom the former tried to convert. The priest is a good preacher and an outstanding soul redeemer. But the bandit dodges the priest’s faith charges with an argument, “Your ideas are like a song which I don’t like. But you are a good singer and make it sound pretty well”. At last the priest reaches the bandit’s heart and seems close to win his soul. But then a shootout breaks and the bandit is deadly wounded. The priest rushes to help and eventually baptize the dying man. The bandit, touched more by the priest’s desperation than by honest conviction, agrees to baptism. As both grip hands, the outlaw grins in a supreme effort only to say: “It is the singer, not the song.”

I have thought about this passage to introduce a brief reference to President Evo Morales insisting claim about a rejection of his Indian government out of ethnic prejudice.

Mr. Morales claims at every corner that “oligarchs”, whites and “the rich” conspire to overthrow him because they “despise Indians and do not want change.” With this he also wants to disguise the growing dissatisfaction with his 2-year old administration. But that ritornello is wearing out, even beyond Bolivian borders because of recurrent errors by his government. It used to receive wide attention and was sympathetically understood at the beginning of his regime. The outcry of 500 years of slavery (under the colonial rule) and neglect (after independence) spurs solidarity, especially in Europe, aware of the human cost of colonialism. As I wrote once, President Evo Morales received the government on a golden tray, because he was an Indian (just a mixed-race leader, to be sure, but one from very humble origins) the opportunity to involve all Bolivians in a moral and educational crusade that would result in a giant leap ahead towards modernity.

But he recklessly began piling up enemies inside and abroad without care for his political assets. To begin with, he unleashed a hard-to-understand wrath over the Catholic Church, whose action was key in the survival of hundreds of thousands of native Indians and their culture. Most likely he did not read (he claims proudly that rather than learning in books he reads on the wrinkles of his ancestors) about the visit to Cuba and its leader Fidel Castro in early 1998. And now he is besieged by opposition movements, his government has dived in its worst crisis. He has lost support of the middle class almost entirely. He hesitates about a recall referendum he himself proposed because of he is no longer sure of its outcome. Politically he is badly wounded. The illegalities and abuses that marked the passing of his party’s Movimiento al Socialismo new Constitution draft overshadow arguments over the alleged illegality of the statues of autonomies that four –and soon maybe six out of nine Bolivian states- are campaigning to win popular approval via a string of plebiscites starting May 4.

President Morales now calls for the intervention of the Catholic Church to stop the coming up referenda and to open a channel for talks with the autonomist departments. Not so many weeks ago he ruled out a request to call foreign facilitators the governors suggested to help dealing with the crisis. But now he welcomes them. And the economy, which could be leap-frogging thanks to the high prices of natural gas and minerals, is staggering. Inflation is within the two digits after years of recording respectable 4%-6% levels. Ironically those worse hit are the poor, from who Morales’ main support comes from.

How did it happen? Excluding “communitary justice” and “Ayllu Communitarism,” nobody who is not blind and fanatic would disagree with the notion that Bolivia has plenty to reform, likewise with the notions of equality and social and economic promotion f the peasants, especially Indians at the quickest speed. These postulates constitute a universal song. Its achievement depends a great deal on honesty and efficiency, always in short supply__and not only in Bolivia. But in Bolivia the singer and most in the orchestra are out of tune and perform poorly.

Unlike the above-mentioned movie, the audience now stands up and cry loud in despair: the plot may be good, but the director and the whole cast leave too much to desire!

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